27.2.2017, Michael Bischof - the contributions of KOEK and mine are on purpose not mentioned here with one tiny exception!

Revised on 20.6.2017.

URL of this site: http://www.koek.naturaldyes.de/kilim.studies.html

Kilim studies -how they started...

The following lines outline that part of this picture which I want to discuss on a public platform. There is another part of what I know - but there are many good reasons to communicate such things by peer-to-peer communication only.

Kilims and village carpets were nothing new in the Europe of the 70s. Between 1870 and 1914 a lot of late kilims (made after 1870) came to Europe, a lot from Turkey. In Germany one used the term „Karamaniye“ as many came, as gossip wanted to know, from the vicinity of Karaman in Southern Central Anatolia. Customers used them as home textiles. There was no such thing like collecting. The weaves were in perfect condition and „floorable“. To perceive them as textile art was no accepted task. Even classical carpets were „discovered“ as objects of art as late as the end of the 19th century.

Then there was a break caused by the huge turmoils in Europe from 1914-1945. After World War I great amounts of carpets, village carpets, especially Caucasian ones, and as well (late) flatweaves went from Europe to the USA for very low prices - out of sight. The economic recovery in Europe created the room for new activities.

The first kilim exhibition in this new era, starting with the 70s, was compiled by Alan Marcuson and Michael Franses:
Kilims; the traditional tapestries of Turkey.  Presented by The Iranian Arts Association of Ireland at The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (1979)
, but a London exhibition (and catalogue) got to be more prominent:
„The Undiscovered Kilim“.  David Black and Clive Loveless. London (1977) 

It started with a grotesque Westerners ethnocentric statement in the title: „The Undiscovered Kilim“. Imagine that unnumberable people in the Near East and the Balcanies lived then with kilims as part of their usual set of home textiles and a lot of kilim were still woven at that time. As those people do not count the kilim was „undiscovered“. May be these were just practical needs of dealers who wanted to open a new field and catch the necessary attention for it.

In those years a lot of Western people started to travel on their own to Turkey. One may discern 2 groups:
  1.   those interested in Turkey proper
  2.   people who started their trips to Afghanistan and India (cheap Cannabis, an important motivation then) in Istanbul and passed Turkey
At that time suitable asphalt streets were rare, most of the townships in Anatolia could be reached only by stabilized gravel roads, in Eastern Anatolia even the main roads were like that. Travelling by car, a must for those who wanted to come to remote places, was time consuming and uneasy (dust!!!).

This situation was reflected even in botany. The famous „Flora of Turkey“ by Davis listed a lot of plants as endemics, restricted to very small areas. Later, with better roads, one could easily see that in fact they are wide spread, even ubiquitous. One example is Datisca cannabina, a dye plant for yellow, that Harald Böhmer mistook as an indicator of a small area in NW-Anatolia, based on this standard reference book. Later we, KOEK, found out that it is common in whole Turkey except Thracia and the far North-East. So this was not a mistake for which Harald Böhmer was responsible.

Turkey has one huge advantage over other countries when it comes to learn about kilims and village rugs: it is relatively easy to access, even remote places. But only in case one speaks Turksih or travels with a translator, like Josephine Powell did.

When people started to be interested in kilims and village rugs they had these sources to get them:
  1. Buy from established shops in the big cities - touristic centers did not exist in 1975, more or less, except in Istanbul.
  2. Buy from traditional furnituring shops allover the country: when a Turkish middle class or working class couple married one had to buy furniture and home textiles - each township had at least one such shop. Sometimes they have local antique pieces.
  3. Buy from villagers or the rare nomadic groups
  4. Later: buy from newcomers, young guys that spoke foreign languages, often students to studied just to relief the burden of joining the army (with a university degree one entered for only 3 months in the rank of an officer), and learned the talents to entertain tourists. These people had no textile background and often were forced to learn from their customers.
    The latest development is that people that used their textile skills that they learnt in their own environment, mostly in Central Anatolia with a focus on Sultanhanı, or around Malatya, to repair carpets and kilms and started later to open own carpet shops, in Istanbul and at the touristic sites. Some people even in the USA.
In the first 3 cases to command Turkish is essential. In the fourth case it is adviseable to understand Turkish, but this ability should be hidden. 

After purchasing a kilim or a village rug people wanted to learn more about those items. People had objects from a virtually unknown culture and could not evaluate them with reason.

The only available literature were Western carpet dealers catalogues with some text additions and legendary failures in geography. „Sivas, South Anatolia“ for a soumak cuval from the vicinity of Silifke (at the mouth of the Göksu river into the Mediterranean seaI remember well.  It continues until today. In addition they were overloaded with carpet dealers fairy tales.

Like each girl had to weave her dowry textiles alone as a test for her ability and talents. Nonsense: she had to have a dowry. If her family was rich enough one bought the necessary set of yastiks from weaving centres. Or: all the big white ground kilims were made for the funeral and later given to the local mosque. To continue: village and nomadic women were masters of making natural dyes in the good old times. Not true. Sometimes, but as an exception, village women heated wool with alum and then is some plant decoctions. In very small amounts Indigo vatting with urine was applied in villages. Normally the persons who did the dyes were professionals: persons who earned their living from making the dyes, in most cases stationary, located in the townships or rarely in villages that were specialized on sheep breeding. In Anatolia Armenians were famous for making the dyes, Central Anatolia being no exemption.

It is not the blame of the trade. It functioned in finding suitable pieces for the clients. To publish books with a scientific demand, but without any field research, about non-European weaving art was beyond its capability. So one has merely picture catalogues with some more or unless unrelated text stuff („Kilim as art“, Neolithic pottery and its motives, etc.) or, even worse, just some romantic tapitological „thoughts“ about those weaves.

The empirical phase

Asking the friendly dealer the next time did not help. As those dealers of above given group 4 had erected a kind of rubber wall against any „intruder“ in order to protect their sources. At about 1980 it was easily possible in Central Anatolia to purchase nice antique kilims from stocks in private houses and it would have been possible to notice even the quarter (mahalle) of a township where the source was. This is important as often tribal groups who settled in the 19th century there had the habit to stick together in such a mahalle. Fragments of kilims or village rugs one could not get from private people: they were ashamed of it. A fragment was for them a textile that cannot be used any longer, has no value then and it would have been a shame to charge money for it. So fragments were introduced into the „foreigners market“ between 1980 and 1985, not earlier, and were significantly cheaper than complete pieces in the so called „German condition“.

The business in big scale was done with intermediate people, so called „pickers“. These men regularly checked the available pieces in their „district“ and then moved the merchandize to selected dealers. The competition aimed for motivation of those pickers to come first to the own shop, where the whole bundle could be examined, the primary selection be made. And one could advice the picker to which dealers he might move with the rest of this bundle, and in which row. The „art“ of this business is never ever to let the picker learn about the real value of certain pieces. So one always buys a mixed lot with a price for the total thing. In most cases late, complete, useable pieces where higher paid than important early fragment pieces. In any case it is the picker who definitely knows from which place a certain piece came from. Other sources than buying from private houses  I will not discuss here  on purpose. The only thing important to know is that these sources as well could theoretically keep the information about the original place where the textile was picked up.

In this situation people who were interested in obtaining a better understanding these textiles, with the hope one later day to establish a corpus of knowledge sufficient to sustain their perception as art, were forced to try this on their own.

My own decision was: in order to look behind this rubber wall it is necessary to be a part of this „structure“, an insider. So I continued to travel the whole country to collect informations. But anything related to purchase and sell items I did with a Turkish partner.

Other people did the same with another perspective, like the mentioned Josephine Powell, whome I visited several times in a year to exchange results. Harald Böhmer did the same, often together with Josephine. Belkis Acar (later Balpinar) and Udo Hirsch collected empirical evidence where they could. As a result the Vakiflar Museums kilim and carpet catalogues arose. Both not just picture books: the location of pictured pieces was given and suggestions about the groups that might have created the piece were given. Important: this was in the „empirical“ phase of their work.

In Bergama there was a years long excavation program done with the help of German institutions. Two women who were engaged there who used their free time to travel to areas in NW-Anatolia, moved from village to village, photographed and recorded details they got to know from the villagers, focussing on different flatwoven textiles of formal tribal people there. The book was compiled with the help of Eberhart Ammermann ( †2017) , a great collector with many travels to Turkey.

Steiner, Elisabeth; Pinkwart, Doris; Ammermann, Eberhart (2014). Bergama Heybe ve Torba: Traditional bags of the Yürüks in Northwest Anatolia, Observations from 1970 to 2007 / Traditionelle Taschen der Yürüken Nordwest-Anatoliens. Beobachtungen in den Jahren zwischen 1970 bis 2007 (in German, English, and Turkish). ISBN 9783000446191.

It is for me one of the highlights of field research in Anatolia. In a short summary it is not possible to mention all names involved in this type of research at the spot, focussing on empirical evidence. Such studies go on until today.

The status at about 1990 can be summarized like this:

Kilim weaving is not uniquely distributed in Anatolia. There are „gravity centers“. At those areas Turcoman tribes have been settled in the 18th and 19th century or in different „waves“ before. With the sedentarization the textiles changed. Where people are settled more than ca. 150 years the kilims were adapted for use in a house rather than in a tent. Where this sedentarization happened early, end of 16th century (Yukari Sakarya Yayla, along the Kızılirmak, for example) one can find very early big and heavy kilims to be used in a house. - So all research points to those people that were closest to the sheep and the ones who handled first their products.

And this means for pursueing kilim and village rug studies:

1. Find those groups
2. Research their movements in history
3. Study their material culture and their socio-cultural environment
4. Research the technical elements of weaves: yarn making, dyeing, weaving technques and structures
5. Find out for what purpose the weaves in question were made for
6. Study and compare the distribution of their „imagery“ (motives and their treatment)
- and then finally discuss critically whether these weaves are „art“ and what measures might be applied for grading them according to their artistical merits.

The proposed approach tries to understand kilims and village rugs from the process of its creation and focusses on the people who created them. Opposite to the demand to instantly interprete the left-over residues from some „general arts“ point of view.

Example given (whether it is invented or real is not topic of this essay)

In the wider Konya plain different Turcoman nomadic groups settled from 1820 - 1880. One particular village was founded in 1865. Of course people built a mosque and donated suitable textiles at various events to it. Now, in 2017, the community decides to sell all old items in order to repair the building and buy newer cheap ready fabrics to substitute them. - One has the chance to document the whole inventory, the majority kilims, followed by some zilis, few carpets. The oldest pieces are about 2 generations older than the foundation date of the mosque. The life span of such textiles used in a nomadic environment is not longer. Scholars may do ethnographic research, find out which groups founded this village, look in old Ottoman archives, study which skills are left... in this case a cerain kilim, as it is, not washed, may be called a  A piece according to the „integrity“ of its know „fate“. If a piece from this convolut is sold into the trade, some cheap uneducated personnel in a wash house damaged it but still its origin is known we may call it a   B piece. If it did not sell quick, the knowledge of its origin is lost, the piece is now called „Karapınar“ as this is a better „trade mark“, after it was moved a lot in the maelstrom of the trade and finally 2-3 „late“ colours were exchanged with yarn from kilim residues (söküntü)  - then we call it a  C piece. If some dealer cry we just learn to know their voice.

Unhappy intermediate status

In the beginning of the 80 s there was strong demand for great kilims and heavy competition between advanced collectors. It started to be possible to sell even fragments. The drive was towards „the earlier the better“. The prices sky-rocketed. But the dream objects were still not sufficiently studied. It was a period of „primary accumulation“ and the prevalent mood was that of gold prospecting. The phrase of the period was most likely „top piece“. But how to select the top piece amongst others if there are no criteria, as there is no valid corpus of research results and no settled status in the art sciences?

As kilims were fashionable a growing amount of dealers entered the field. The pioneering dealer figures (David Black, Clive Loveless, Michael Franses, Alan Marcuson, Jack Cassin, Bertram Frauenknecht, Klaus Frantz, Gery Muse) got companionship. There was heavy traffic to Turkey from dealers and also from leading collectors, both dreaming of buying from „the source“, mostly to some shops in Istanbul and Konya.

Nothing could be more wrong than calling this „buying from the source“.  The amount of materials that local dealers could get by collecting them in villages at the spot was limited, especially for Istanbul based dealers. The whole „system“ depended on pickers who travelled those areas and offered their findings then in a certain row to those dealers. Where a certain textile faced the surface was therefore known in each case, especially with the more important findings. In few cases leading collectors were admitted to visit the real sources.

But the guys in between had to be motived by the perspective to earn good money with early, often battered kilims, especially with fragments. The first guy
to kick off an avalanche by buying totally battered fragments was Herwig Bartels, quite well before 1980.

To him all the mentioned pioneering dealers owe gratefulness. Without his impact they would not have got later early pieces, plus, important to mention that: a big lot of pieces that were not early but just looked so. As a prominent collector later put it: hippie dealers with 5 minutes knowledge advance over their customers. No wonder: if one does not know the country, the background, the basics of making weaves and even the language to communicate at the spot there are no standards to evaluate what has been found, except the happenstance impression of „somehow early“, which rules the market until today. [2]

As a result there many people who frequently travelled to Turkey but never had the opportunity to explore the country, not to mention doing field research. The „knowledge“ was limited to some shops. Though nearly everybody in the trade romanticzed nomads only Josephine Powell and Harald Böhmer tried serious field work at the spot.

While the hunt for the „hardware“ was hefty there was a serious lack of „software“ for interpreting and grading the items found. A kind of unhealthy tension between both could be sensed. The need for some new ideas was kind of „in the air“. One should understand in addition that there was a smooth transition between „scholars“ and „dealers“ in this moment.

There was a demand for some fresh ideas that would fit to the real knowledge status of mentioned groups and required not more than studying the found artifacts as they were plus read some books. No field work, no learning of the basics (wool, yarn making, dye making, historical geography, ethnography). Exciting, but vague. Sounding scientifical, but communicable to the customers.

The era of bold theories

In this situaton some publications got a lot of international attention.

James Mellaart, Udo Hirsch, Belkis Balpinar:
The goddess from Anatolia. Milano 1989, Eskenazi,. Vol. 1-4

http://www.marlamallett.com/chupdate.htm - A critique by Martha Mallett - this refers mainly to the problem whether the cited artefacts are genuine. It is no intellectual dissection of the underlying concept.

The basic claim is: these kilims are of Anatolian neolithic origin. This particular tradition survived in remote areas of Anatolia some thousands of years and was at the end copied by later arrivals in Turkey. The real artists are the „yerli“, the settled part of the population, the Turcoman nomadic people have just an epigonic relation to this äons old magical textile art.

To shorten a long journey: the authors and their fanboys were never able to present factual evidence for this „theory“. Some convincing similarities do not help at all. For an evolution type of hypothesis one has to prove an  uninterrupted chain of pieces of evidence. It contradicts the above shown geographical and ethnical distribution of weaving in Turkey. Udo Hirsch and Belkis Balpinar know it. This mother goddess hypothesis is a 180° turn to their own previous field work. Therefore Josephine Powell, among many authors, rejected it as being a construct invented for heating kilim sales.

Our contribution to this debate:
At about 1990, in the middle of this heated debate, we arrange a workshop event in the house of Anette Rautenstengel,  arranged by the „Teppichfreunde Nordrhein-Westfalen“, Chairman Dietmar Pelz, to present our view.
„Our“ means: 2 students, one of Turkology and Ethnography, one of Geography, speaking Turkish, with several longer experiences in Anatolia including lengthy contacts to village women, who could comb and spin the wool, and me.
Jasmin Hofmacher, Michaela Kühnert and I have developed a total different hypothesis about the origin of those „motives“, but this will not be illustrated here: these motives are ideograms stemming from the neolithic introduction of agriculture and are nearly worldwide distributed. My contribution was analysis of designs including some ad-hoc-demonstations plus. The audience got suprised when I stated that and why results of the upcoming neurobiological explanations for recognizing patterns would be unavoidable in textile art research. That was 1990. Sometimes one has to wait quite long till prophecies come true, so to say, but as of 13.6.2017 one may have a look here:
http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(17)30538-X - to see the latest progress in that area.

Cassin, Jack: Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kilims. New York: Jack Cassin, 1989.

A very nicely produced opus in 2 volumes about 9 kilims, of which 5 or 6 are indeed early kilims. It was impossible for me to review it as at no single spot there is a statement that is definite and nails down the authors opinion. It is a kind of parody of art dealers argot: „...if one sees this motive .... and compares it with this... then one might feel tempted to compare it with...“, this type of bla bla. More or less the authors mind flies in the direction of Mellaart/Hirsch/Balpinar. The pestiferous use of the term „iconographic“ without a single proof makes the handsome booklet difficult to digest and enjoy.

The author Jack Cassin now, in private mails to this author from 20.6.2017, puts the following claims:
The second part I do not buy. That in 1981, when Jack Cassin went first to Turkey, Bertram Frauenknecht could have been his student is a ridiculous megalomaniac claim to me. Though both persons most likely have been at the begin of their learning curve concerning Anatolian kilims then. Frauenknecht most likely being slightly ahead, as he had published Anatolian Prayer Kilims in 1978.  As I was a beginner in 1981, by the way.  -  The other claims I will not comment. This whole bulk of „theories“ claiming an uninterrupted descent of the basic kilim motives within Anatolia from the Anatolian Neolithic is at no point (as of today) substantiated and restricted to compare similiarities which is outright childish. Example: I  leave the house in Augsburg in Southern Germany on clear weather and see the Alpine mountains. Most of them appear as a triangle. So the proof is there that the people who erected the pyramides were from Augsburg? Therefore I find it absolutely unimportant who once got the first (nonsense) thought of it? Cassin? Bartels? Mellaart? Hirsch? Rageth?

The inherent trouble with such a scheme is not even mentioned. [1]

The proposed schema of periodication (archetype, classic period, commercial period etc.) is an aspect that got a warm welcome from dealers. Understandably! The antique dealers desperatedly need a „scientifically“ sounding serious statement that all really good weaves stopped to occur after a certain date so excellence can be found only - with them. Uninformed themselves nobody cried alarm when in the discussion of nomadic flatweaves the term „commercial period“ was proposed. Which is utter nonsense: most likely many member of such communities worked sometime in the frame of  producing commercial (made for sale) rugs as yarn makers  or weavers but these collectible kilims, zilis, cuvals etc. were simply made for their own material culture and used within that, never ever made for to be sold.

The whole thing with these publications boiled down to a kind of advanced marketing effort to sell those textiles: the books, the (Internet only!) artificial „Weaving Art Museum“, not for sale but offered several times in reality, the same schmock that most collectors know from some dealers. „Not for sale - my private collection“ type of entertainment.

As these „bold theories“ could never find further substantiation, we all just learnt that making weaves is much older than previously thought, they had no lasting effect on kilim studies after a lot of hot initial debates.

The stimulus had no happy end, the discussion never had a result on which all sides agreed, it just rot off.

[3] Some of those pieces are not yet sold.

As the necessary basic skills for such weaves are still available in Anatolia the proof of the pudding (of the concept that I favour) would be to create some replicas sensu strictu, so good that people would accept that the „process of creating“ is sufficiently understood.

Whether it is art or not remains an eternal question. As „art“ should always have some secret or „magic“.


[1] In order to set up a meaningful periodization scheme one  first has to sort known kilims according to their age, as it was determined by scientifical means (C14 dating, indicator dyes) and add all auxilliary information about them (where was it found? Which groups inhabited that place at what time?) into it. In other terms: a  calibration tool. All further interpretations depend totally on the reliability of this time scale. 

After this is done one can start to analyse the historical evolution of single motives and try to build up universally valid conclusions, for underlying patterns in the use of colours etc. , always in accordance with this calibration tool.

By the way: no one knows today how old weft-faced flatweaves are, whether they started at a certain area or whether they were invented anew, independant from each other, in different regions. With confidence one can say in 2017 that those Anatolian kilims (and similar weaves) of nomadic origin represent only a small section of woollen flatweaves. Their historical origin is still unknown. After getting settled this traditon weakened and stopped completely with the mechanization of agriculture in Turkey, 1970 ff.


[2] The capital punishment in many cases is to cite somebody without any alteration so he would have to admit: this is me in my own language. Jack Cassin has today written 2 private mails to claim corrections to the above written text - and he has given to me the permission to publish them. I will not further comment it.


 you seem to have a serious problem with telling the truth, and double that for anything about me:
1. you did not include me in the 'pioneering figures you list which is ridiculous, as i started GARRY Muse off in dealing REAL GENUINE early kelims.  He learned from me so at least get it straight. Plus I was instrumental in marcuson's knowledge and introduced him to Muse and they then became partners.
2. I met frauenknecht in 1980 in the textile museum ICOC in Washington and he slept on the couch in my suite at the hotel so he could hang out with me and learn about kelim and early rugs. The collection he published in the prayer kelim book belonged to stolp fraser but so what there is not one early piece in there. So frauenknecht, like muse, owe their beginning in the Anatolian kelim game to me.
I sent you the signed frauenknecht black book title page where he wrote "TO JACK CASSIN FRIEND AND TEACHER" so quit your nonsense and tell the truth if you are going to bother to tell it at all. I do not need you to sing my praises but if you are going to mention me do it honestly and truthfully. I am resending the frauenknecht book page jpg.
3 IMAGE IDOL SYMBOL: it is NOT about 9 kelim it is 9 kelims, why write "about"?
4. And what do not you buy? i sent you, and am resending, the autographed front page of the Goddess from Anatolia where Mellaart wrote "TO JACK CASSIN WHO STARTED IT ALL" i was the publisher and organized the project. I already wrote you what I decdied to do and why, so quit the bullshit, bischof, and tell the truth, not some fractured fairy tale or backhanded bullshit like you did now and continue to do. 
5. Need more proof? go call frauenknecht and ask him whose idea that little back book was, and who picked the best pieces. And why he wrote I was his teacher?
you always act poorly, so is it any surprise why i do not treat you well?
go change what you again falsify...you constantly accuse me of lying and never prove it but YOU are lying all the time and I prove it to you...
straighten up, pup, for the last time"

„bartels had no early kelim before 1980

my collection was already in my hands and finished

you are full of shit bitchoff, you are  jackhater and a moron
you lie about me  every opportunity you get
fuck you , your mother and your sisters
you are a dumb bastard and when i am thru with you
no one will even bother to read your shit, even the few
idiots who do now
got that, douchebag 
Jack Cassin"

[3] There was an „event“ on 29.6.-2.7.2017 on the Facebook platforms „Warp and Weft...“ and on „Kilim“. Jack Cassin had approached me claiming foul play and censorship had ocurred in the Internet and proposed that I should publish on Warp and Weft... and on Kilim his supressed opion piece about shady dealings at LACMA. I agreed under the condition that  I will not be party in this conflict and just help out against censorship. When it was done he immediately returned to his well known style of ranting into ad hominem comments, which created a kind of disgusting freak show. Nobody commented on the issue itself. So I stopped further comments. In the following conflict with him he simply lied about what has happened: http://www.rugkazbah.com/boards/records.php?id=2914&refnum=2914 So I stopped any further contact. - He complained bitterly how his real role in the discovery of early kilims was reported wrongl,  his importance understated and belittled in this text. If he finds a friend or middle man and is able to deliver through him to me a text that is not just ranting I am ready to place this text here as a not too long appendix.